Piers Plowman St. Erkenwald, St. Erkenwald, and the Rule of Exceptional Salvations.
WL’s treatment of Trajan, in the salvation granted him as a “trewe kny3t” without revivification, conversion, baptism, or the presence of the petitioning widow, affirms the legend’s emphasis on public discourse ather than theological coherence, while the extreme reduction in Gregory’s importance testifies to the value of Trajan’s “truþe.” Trajan’s active charity and justice recall Christ’s virtues as enumerated in the gifts of the Magi (B.19.86-93), and anticipate the paradoxical image of the humiliated Christ as conqueror. As the only character in the poem with a historical reality, Trajan serves to historicize the righteous heathen through our desire to emulate him. While magnifying the role of the bishop and the sacramental church, St. Erkenwald nonetheless defines the question of pagan virtue as one of the historical imagination perhaps even more than does PPl.
YLS 6 (1992): 63-88.